Early Places With Metals:
Höyük is the modern Turkish name for a fascinating
archaeological site in the hills of central Anatolia. This Neolithic city contained twelve successive levels of
buildings and was populated from 7500 BC to 5700 BC (English Wikipedia) or from
7400 / 7100 BC to about 6200 BC (German Wikipedia).
It is among the earliest cities known to mankind. I emphasize the word "city" because that's what it was supposed to be: a huge - for that time - assembly of up to 10 000 people at its peak (5000 to 8000 on average) that lived together in a collection of closely connected houses (English Wikipedia). However, newer insights put the number at only about 2500 inhabitants (German Wikipedia). Whatever - compare that to other neolithic settlements like Cayönü Tepesi, were a best a few hundred people lived together, and you see why one should call Çatal Höyük a city.
|Or should one? Does a sufficiently large number
of inhabitants a city make? Wouldn't that also require some special buildings
besides living quarters: temples, "city halls" or large rooms /
places / buildings ("agoras") for assembling and doing some rituals,
like having a council meeting or sacrificing virgins? Shouldn't there be bars
for sharing a beer with the guys, or brothels. Moreover, shouldn't a city be
the economical and cultural center for all those yokels living out there in the
pits, and the place were specialists live and do their thing (like working
copper) that normal people couldn't do?
None of that seems to apply to Çatal Höyük. There are only houses of about equal size. That's a bit strange because smaller (and somewhat older) places in Anatolia have featured only "temples" (e.g. Göbekli Tepe) or temples / agoras plus living quarters (e.g. Cayönü Tepesi). So maybe the Çatal Höyükians were early communists with no hierarchy, and all men, possibly even the women, being equal? That has been suggested more than once, of course.
|Once more I did my best to confuse you. It's intentional. Because that does justice to the ongoing discussion about Çatal Höyük, while all those articles that leave nothing open project just some particular point of view. In the case of Çatal Höyük the first guy who did major excavations, one James Mellaart, set the stage for some of the confusion that ensued later because he not only chose the site to test his (controversial) theory of "post-processual archaeology" (look it up yourself) but never published his findings in detail. He was eventually kicked out of Turkey in 1965 because the Turkish government was reasonably sure that he was involved in some shady dealings with respect to a lost (100 Mio $) ancient gold treasure (look up "Dorak affair").|
|There is already some "mythology" around Çatal Höyük. In the words of Eleni Asouti, reporting from the 1995-99 digging season: "In the 1960s it was the absence of a measure of comparison that raised Çatalhöyük to a class of its own. During the 1970s and 1980s increased archaeological work and the realization of the fundamental theoretical faults of earlier approaches led largely to a demystification of the site, with the emphasis shifting away from Mellaarts shrines and the ubiquitous mother goddess to more tangible (and empirically demonstrable) realities as for example settlement economy and the perceived importance of the site in regional exchange networks. The more unsettling, and for that reason more difficult to entertain, aspects of the site (when not marred by controversy) were largely confined to the margins of the academically acceptable discourse. ...During the 1990s Çatalhöyük became once more marginalized, in a way also exoticized, by virtue of its perceived isolation from the wider research agendas of the regional Neolithic archaeology." So let's wait and see.|
|Anyway, Çatal Höyük
is an amazing site. It consisted of rectangular mud-brick buildings with a flat
roof, either close together or touching each other. The only entrance was
through the roof, and the (connected) roof areas might have been a kind of
public place. In Asikli
Höyük and Can Hasan
building techniques are similar - but not in
Here is what it looks like now and what it might have looked like (8 000 - 9 000) years ago
|The people in Çatal
Höyük liked to live in style. They had flagstoned floors and
plastered their walls. On occasion they had murals on the walls or other
adornments like Aurochs' heads.
This is what it looked like:
|The murals are amazing, too. The artists used
natural pigments of course, but including the reds and browns and yellows of
(imported?) ochre as well as the
greens and blues of the copper
minerals malachite and azurite and red
Here are two examples:
|Those pictures are, of course, reconstructions of the real findings - it is just not always mentioned. What one of the stags up there really looks like now is shown below:|
|There is, however, also some scandal about some findings of James Mellaart that only exist as drawings without proper documentation of the actual finds.|
|Then there is the famous "Mother Goddess" who caused a lot of uproar in matriarchal and other circles. The figure continues, perhaps, the long chain of far older "Venus " figurines. What the obese lady signifies is, as in the case of the Cayönü Tepesi Double Goddess, anybody's guess. Don't let me know your theory.|
|People in Çatal Höyük f...ed and recorded that in figurines. They also made very complex flintstone knifes and buried their dead under the floors of their houses, occasionally together with grave goods like necklaces made from bone beads, and sometimes without the heads, suggestive of practices in (earlier) Cayönü Tepesi.|
|As far as "technology" is
concerned, there are highly complex and beautiful flintstone and obsidian spear
points, arrow heads, knifes, polished mirrors, and so on. The
obsidian bracelet from Asikli
Höyük beats all that, however.
The obviously large importance of this city may have been based on its obsidian "industry". Çatal Höyük lies "near" (about 150 km as the crow flies) to the only known source of obsidian for hundreds of miles around, the twin-coned Hasan Dag volcano.
|More important, Çatal Höyük is also the place of some of the earliest pottery. This is extremely important for the history of metals. I won't go into that here, however, because I could find very little on what, exactly, was going on in Çatal Höyük with respect to pottery.|
|There is much, much more - and all of it is amazing.|
|It's amazing, too. No mention of metals in Çatal Höyük was made in almost all of the many, many site I looked at in the Net. The prominent exception it the English Wikipedia site - getting it wrong! The (generally better) German Wikipedia site does not mention metals at all.|
|All these years I somehow associated Çatal
Höyük with "first metals". And then nothing? Well - not
quite. To make a long story short, three points need to be addressed:
|All things considered it looks like the earlier
excavators were so excited about what they found that the just wanted to
enlarge the list of "firsts" attached to Çatal
Höyük: First lead, first smelting, first...
Only in the last 20 years or so, careful analysis of some of those artifacts has been started, and the final words are not yet in. I use the plural intentionally, because the final word, I'm sure, will never be in. We just cannot reconstruct exactly what was going on 10 000 year ago based on the few surviving things occasionally unearthed.
|From today's point of view,
Çatal Höyük is still an extremely important find, but
meanwhile no longer unique. In the words of Shahina Farid:
"We know that there are many earlier settled sites, both in eastern and central Anatolia and in the Levant, which compare in size and complexity. We also know that the domestication of plants and animals was well underway in these areas thousands of years before Çatalhöyük. There are local sequences, which lead up to and predate Çatalhöyük, such as nearby Boncuklu Höyük and Pinarbas. In south-east Turkey, the earlier sites of Çayönü and Göbekli Tepe already show substantial agglomeration and elaborate symbolism, whilst, in central Anatolia, Asikli Höyük has densely packed housing through the millennium before Çatalhöyük. There are many other sites contemporary, or partly contemporary, with Çatalhöyük that are known in central Anatolia and the adjacent Burdur-Lakes region, yet Çatalhöyük retains a special significance because of the concentration of aspects of all of these sites in the one place."
|1)||As it turns out, I
guessed right. A 2017 publication (see below) states: We re-interpret the
sample identified earlier as metallurgical slag as incidentally fired green
pigment, which was originally deposited in a burial and later affected by a
destructive fire that also charred the bones of the interred body. We also
re-confirm the contemporary metal beads as made from native metal ".
Repealing the Çatalhöyük extractive metallurgy: The green, the fire and the slag Author links open overlay panelMiljanaRadivojevicaThiloRehrenbcShahinaFaridbErnstPernickadDuyguCamurcuoglue
Early Metal Technology - 2. Silver and Lead
Confusing the Issue
Early Copper Sites
Early Pyrotechnolgy - Pottery
The Cyprus Copper and Bronze Industry
© H. Föll (Iron, Steel and Swords script)